So much about my students has changed over the last twenty years, but much remains the same. My students still have a strong desire to succeed and an innate interest in learning. They still miss class, argue over late assignments, groan at the mention of a research paper, and love being actively involved in the learning process. They still challenge and amaze me as they share unique insights and ideas about the topics we’re studying. I still feel like I learn more from my students each semester than they could possibly learn from me.

However, my students have changed in some important ways. They are more likely to seek multiple viewpoints before committing to or accepting an idea and are more emotionally open to a variety of truths and solutions to a problem. They expect immediacy in every area of their education, from getting questions answered to receiving feedback on assignments. The most obvious change; however, is in the way they embrace technology: as a learning tool, a communication tool, an information source, and a truly integral part of their day-to-day existence.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in twenty years as a professor is that I have to meet my students where they are. Today that means utilizing technology to communicate and collaborate with them. For example, twenty years ago if a student missed class he/she waited until the following week to find out what he/she missed and how to get caught up. Today, I record a brief, 15-minute overview of my lectures using screencastomatic.com and send it to students that are not present. They get an overview of what they missed, a copy of the visuals I used in class, and a personal message from me.

Twenty years ago, if a student had a question they visited me during my office hours, left me a voicemail message, or simply waited until the next class. Today, they see me during my virtual online office hours, post a question to our classroom discussion forum (that can then be immediately answered by me or any of their classmates) or send me a text message. It’s likely I’ll respond to them with a video email (one of my favorites is eyejot.com) so that when I answer their question they not only hear me, but see me and reference the handout, website, or text I’m discussing. Twenty years ago students raised their hand in class to answer a question (or more likely three or four students answered most of the questions for their peers). Today I use clickers in the classroom, or use students’ cell phones as polling tools through free sources like polleverywhere.com. Students get to use the technology they already love, while allowing me to formatively assess what they understand, immediately provide feedback and instruction, get all students involved and committed to what they know (or don’t know) as well as make learning fun and interactive.

I won’t belabor the point but suffice it to say there are multiple technologies available for every unique learning situation. As an instructor, you’ll need to make that decision based on the learning objectives for your course, the types of in-class activities and at-home work you assign, and the technology tools available to your students. I’ll admit that adding technology to my classroom has been both exciting and intimidating; however, my students are ultimately better able to master the course content when I use the technology they already embrace. Madeline Hunter said “Any growth requires a temporary loss of security.” Here’s to a security-free next twenty years of teaching!

Shawn Orr is a Professional Educator with Cengage Learning’s Peer-to-Peer Faculty Development and Consulting and has worked in higher education for over eighteen years as a Business and General Education professor, Business Department Chairperson, academic advisor, Dean of Faculty, and Director of College Success courses. She has developed and taught more than twenty different courses in the business, management, composition, humanities, and communication areas. Orr was the 2010 Post-Secondary Teacher of the Year for the Ohio Business and Technology Teacher Association and the 2011 North Central Educators Association Educator of the Year. She holds a B.A. from Bowling Green State University in Communications with a minor in management, and a M.A. from BGSU in Communications with a specialization in Curriculum Development. Orr contributed to the online content of the fourteenth edition of Dave Ellis’ Becoming a Master Student, is a published author, and has been actively involved in working with accreditation and assessment in higher education. Shawn is an energetic teacher and presenter and her areas of expertise include active learning strategies, assessment, retention, student success, online learning, teaching to the adult learner, and curriculum design and redesign. Orr is active in many state and national professional organizations and volunteers for the Daily Bread, Meals on Wheels, and Junior Achievement which “educates students about workforce readiness, entrepreneurship, and financial literacy.” See some of Shawn’s other projects here. How do you integrate the use of various technologies into your classroom? Share your ideas below.